Felony charity – Sham charity stole cash, authorities say

A California couple faces felony charges related to running what authorities call a sham children’s charity that cheated entertainer Michael Jackson and others out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations, the Associated Press reports.

Gary Gene Harder, 55, and Grace Darlene Brandt, 56, were charged with 77 felony counts and jailed on $1.4 million bail each. Charges include grand theft, insurance fraud and failure to file income tax returns.

For the last 15 years, the couple allegedly collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and auction items each year. After spending only a few hundred dollars on an annual children’s puppet show, they spent the rest on themselves, said Deputy District Attorney Albert MacKenzie.

Their so-called charity operated from an expensive home under several names. Contributors were told their donations assisted handicapped, retarded and underprivileged children, authorities said.

Their lawyer, Paul J. Fitzgerald, said their charity was legitimate and they spent all the money on children.

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